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The Biggest Story of 2011 for Me? The Year the Media Fell for the Monarchy

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2011 was the year Canadians learned to once again appreciate the monarchy. Or at least were noisily told to.

From the grating, excessive hoopla of the royal wedding to a series of overblown "controversies" about the supposed monarchist drift of the Harper administration, 2011 was a truly a year that proved the Canadian press is still capable of abandoning all customary standards of journalistic principle whenever royalty makes the headlines. Macleans' absurd decision to name Will and Kate "newsmakers of the year" is but the latest symptom.

In a style befitting the undemocratic institution itself, coverage of the Crown in Canada is almost blissfully indifferent to public tastes. CTV alone dispatched no less than eight on-air correspondents and "dozens" of crew across the pond to cover the marriage of William and Catherine, yet according to BBM Canada, only around 1.5 million Canadians actually bothered to watch their live coverage -- a number considerably lower than the 2.4 million who saw that week's episode of Dancing With the Stars.

You'll rarely find statistics like these mentioned, however. Much easier to simply assert that Canadians "loved" the wedding, or were "obsessed" with the royal couple, or whatever else. Ditto for Will and Kate's subsequent Canada Day trek to Ottawa, an event we were continually told spawned "record" crowds, though at best, they were a mere 17 per cent larger than usual (350,000 compared to the "average" 300,000, according to this Sun piece).

This sort of fawning, uncritical coverage may be a sign that the Canadian press is considerably more monarchist than the Canadian public as a whole (who were, at last count, severely indifferent to royalty), but more likely just reflects a profound institutional laziness on the part of the nation's commentariat, who can rarely muster the energy to engage with issues in anything but the most rigid, inflexible narratives they were taught in J-school three decades ago.

The idea that "royalty matters" simply because it exists (and because it's fun and easy to cover, from a reporter's point of view) is a premise too deeply ingrained to ever re-examine, even in an era such as ours where royalty is undeniably at one of its lowest ebbs in history.

There were, of course, a few rare moments in 2011 where the Crown was reported on in a more contentious, partisan light, but even then, readers were still subjected to no shortage of small-minded tropes. This was the year, after all, when we were routinely subjected to stories that various toadies in the Harper government were sticking pictures of our gracious sovereign on public wallspace, as if this was something in any way unprecedented or reactionary.

Though some monarchist pundits purred approvingly at this supposedly long-overdue nod to history, it's amazing how few could be bothered to recall that only nine years ago, Sheila Copps had done much the same thing, mailing out hundreds of Golden Jubilee portraits of Her Majesty to schools, community centres, libraries, and courthouses o'er the land. Or that Prime Minister Chrétien had presided over no fewer than six royal visits during his time in office, including a lavish Canada Day bash with the Queen on Parliament Hill and a B.C. tour that saw the monarch drop the opening puck at a Canucks game.

It's a testament to the blandly unideological nature of the Harper regime that the press has been forced to read the entrails of basically status-quo gestures like Queen portraits and royal visits in order to suss out some vague theory of the Tories' "new patriotism" or whatever.

Not to say there was no interesting royal news at all in 2011. Though woefully underreported, this year provided the most evidence yet of the growing cleavage of opportunism between the Liberals and Conservatives in terms of the appropriate use of royal power in a 21st-century democracy.

From the debate over the legitimacy of coalition governments -- which almost threatened to overshadow the entire May election -- to the tearfully low profile of our new governor general, to Bob Rae's recent plea for that same governor general to veto the government's efforts to abolish the Canadian Wheat Board, time and time again, it  was the Liberal Party who championed the cause of a muscular, activist Crown while the Tories stood opposed.

The idea that the monarch's representative in Canada has a right to form and fire governments at will, stonewall legislation, and speak for the nation at home and abroad is a constitutional principle that has been consistently opposed by the Harper Conservatives, fond as they are of their alternative system of a Sun King prime minister.

Whether the Liberal Party, in its increasingly delirious state of frustrated jealously, will continue to promote increasingly zany schemes of royal coups and governor generalissimos in reaction will be a very interesting phenomenon to watch in the years that come.

Just don't expect the press to have much to say.

Around the Web

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